Before Miles Davis recorded Tutu as his debut offering for Warner Bros., he worked on a funky, jazz-pop-vocal project called Rubberband in North Hollywood over a three-month period in late 1985 and early 1986. While co-producers Randy Hall and Attala Zane Giles felt satisfied, Warner Jazz boss Tommy LiPuma was less enthusiastic. It was ultimately shelved and the tapes languished for 30 years. Davis performed some of its tunes live, and later, trumpet parts from the sessions were grafted onto "Fantasy" and "High Speed Chase" for the posthumously released Doo Bop.
Rubberband is almost thoroughly reinvented from its original tapes with full cooperation from the Davis estate. It was guided by Davis' nephew and drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr., who played on the original sessions. The bookend tracks "Rubberband of Life" featuring Ledisi (it was penned for Chaka Khan's voice), and a remixed version of the title track (featuring a stellar Mike Stern guitar break), were previously released on a limited five-track EP. They are easily the set's high points. Davis' trumpet playing is engaged and tasteful throughout. He delivers funky vamps, tight fills, and sometimes meaty solos -- check his beguiling embellishments on "So Emotional," a fine soul ballad featuring vocalist Lalah Hathaway. On the punky funk of "Give It Up," he's mixed far above the band, and the Prince-cum-James Brown-inspired jam is much better for it. "Paradise" -- a funky calypso number complete with the sound of synthed steel drums -- finds him trilling against layers of percussion punctuated by swampy basslines and acoustic and electric lead guitar as Medina Johnson's vocal cascades in from the margins. The angular funk of "This Is It" (inspired by Scritti Politti) is all vamp; Miles' trumpet sounds stilted as it's casually slotted between layered synths and unimaginative guitar solos. Another highlight is "Maze," which features Stern and saxophonist Bob Berg. Its knotty head and drop-funk basslines (actual and keyboard) meld the best musical traits of Davis' post-retirement bands alongside the inspiration of Prince. "Carnival Time" is a mashup of fusion and smooth jazz punctuated by Latin percussion. It possesses a lovely harmonic sense, but it's marred by overly compressed production. "See I See" smokes. Co-written by keyboardist Adam Holzman, it's easily recognizable as the kind of swaggering funk Davis was playing live at the time. The long "Echoes in Time/The Wrinkle" atmospherically features Davis on keyboards, with Holzman playing distorted, jagged vamps supplemented by tasty fills from his horn. It sets up "Rubberband" as the smoking closer. Snippets of Davis' speaking voice are woven in throughout, but it feels gimmicky. Despite some truly weighty grooves and a few hip tunes, Rubberband comes off sounding unfocused and somewhat flabby due to Hall's and Giles' overproduction. To be fair, no one at the label pretended that Rubberband was even close to "finished," but the producers' attempts at rendering it "modern" sometimes sound overwrought and generic.